“You smell the flowers, don’t you? We are doomed!”
I ignored Smith’s paranoia
“Oh shut up, you uncultured drama queen.” Ricks’ voice carried its usual degree of bitchiness. “We aren’t doomed, the flowers only mean that we are going to be admired by tacky people.”
“Tacky people?” Smith said. “That blonde who asked her boyfriend if licking the canvas would improve her taste for art wasn’t all that classy, and she didn’t smell like flowers.”
“She was from Texas,” Ricks told him. “What did you expect?”
“I’m from Texas,” Jones said. “Are you trying to say I ain’t got no class, bitch?”
“You have all kinds of—”
I interrupted Ricks. “Unholy damn, did you see that thing?”
“No!” Everybody shouted.
“Of course you didn’t.” I would have given anything for the ability to roll my eyes. “You were too busy running your pie holes. I’m not sure what it was, but I can tell you that it didn’t look like flowers.”
“Well, what did it look like?” Ricks screamed at me, but I knew she would have squeezed my neck if she could move her arms.
“Like a rainbow from hell.” I didn’t know what else to say. The damn thing was colorful and it sounded mean.
“That’s stupid, García.” Jones screamed, too, as if not to be outdone by Ricks. “What did it look—”
“Destruction, misery and eternal agony will be all you know if you step in my peoples’ territory! We’ll feast on your entrails! Stay away! Stay away!” shouted the rainbow from hell.
“This is all your fault, bitch,” Jones yelled at Ricks. “Why did you have to wish for the power to bring everything around you to life? Now we have to listen to that psychopath for the rest of eternity. You know how freaking long that is?”
“You have some nerve,” Ricks shouted back. “You wished for everyone who saw you to think, what was it? Oh yes, ‘conquest, terror, power’ and now we are cowboys. Feeling powerful?”
“Actually,” Smith said, “I’m a judge and García is a priest.”
“Shut up!” Ricks and Jones yelled at the same time.
Then everybody stopped talking. Other people couldn’t hear us, but we always stayed quiet when someone approached us.
The rainbow from hell didn’t get the memo. It continued screaming, “Your head will decorate our pikes. We’ll feed your eyeballs to snakes. Destruction, misery and eternal agony! Stay away! Stay away!”
The people couldn’t hear it, so they spoke too. “I think the Peace God will go well between the flowers.”
The older of the two men picked up the Peace God, by its armpits. “It looks terrifying.”
“It’s supposed to. How else would it scare wanderers? Best way to avoid confrontation and promote peace; friends of the tribe knew what the Peace God stood for, so they didn’t fear it.”
“Whatever,” the older man said. “Would you take Judging the Wild West down to the basement? I still don’t know what possessed Mother to display a painting of cowboys at 74th and Roosevelt. Didn’t she know this neighborhood was mostly Arab? Since when did Arabs care about cowboys?”
“Smith is right,” I said. “We are doomed.”
I was taken back to that night, in Iraq, when a sandstorm forced me and my fireteam into a hole. We found a lamp and robbed it. It was a funny joke. No one laughed when the djinn popped out and asked us to make three wishes.
Ricks went off on me when I said to leave the damn thing alone.
“What do you mean you don’t want to put your name in the helmet, Sergeant García? There are four of us and only three wishes. We need to decide.”
“I don’t want to wish for anything Corporal,” I told her. “I’ve seen Wishmaster. Remember what happened to that chick who wished for eternal youth? She turned into a statue. Nah, I don’t trust anything that’s free.”
Six years went by before we figured out why we were stuck in a painting.
“I wished for power to bring things to life,” Ricks said. “Jones wished to be an icon for power and conquest. Smith wished to always be surrounded by his family. How did we end up in this painted hell?”
I heard Smith sobbing, but I couldn’t see him. The djinn painted us looking forward and we couldn’t move my eyes, or anything else for that matter.
“Smith is an orphan,” I said. “We are all he has.”
Finding out that the military was Smith’s only family shut everybody up, even Ricks.
It was dark in the basement. Smith began to cry.
The young guy turned off the lights after he dropped us off.
The darkness reminded me of the trenches. “Ricks?” I said.
“Yes?” she whispered.
“Did you watch Wishmaster?”
“Yeah, about a woman wishing evil away?” Ricks’ voice trembled. She had been in the trenches, too.
“I don’t get it then.” I wished she could see my irritation.
“Don’t get what, Sergeant?” Ricks began to whimper. The dark really did a number on her.
“I don’t understand how someone as smart as you didn’t wish for the whole world to worship the same god. Or for no crude oil in the Middle East. Or for anything else that would have kept us from finding the djinn that trapped us in this fucking painting.”
Her wailing soon swallowed Smith’s sobs, but I didn’t feel sorry for her.